Classic Gunfights: Doc Hits Bottom (but not much else) Doc Holliday vs Billy Allen

doc holliday true west
By the time he hits Leadville, Doc Holliday, 33, is white-haired, wheezy, stoop-shouldered and walks with a cane.
– Illustrations by Bob Boze Bell –

August 19, 1884

Broke, sick and usually drunk, Doc Holliday hits rock bottom in Leadville, Colorado. Today, a fellow gambler, Billy Allen, is demanding Doc repay a $5 loan by noon, “or else.”

The $5 was a pretext. Doc was the target of a group of gamblers. Afraid for his life, Doc goes to his room at 405 Harrison and retrieves his pistol (variously described as a Colt .41 or .44). He hands off the gun to someone, possibly his gambling pal Pat Sweeney, who takes it to Mannie Hyman’s saloon at 316 Harrison. As it is against the law to carry the weapon inside, that person stores Doc’s pistol for him under the bar.

When Holliday reaches the saloon, he waits nervously by a cigar case next to the bar. He has already told the police about the situation, but he is worried Allen will catch up to him first.

Mannie Hyman’s saloon is where Doc Holliday’s last gunfight takes place. Leadville puts Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in the shade, with its 120 saloons, 118 gambling halls, 110 beer gardens and 35 brothels. Check out the contraption on the boardwalk next to the clock. That’s an early electric meter; Leadville first got electricity in 1883! – True West Archives –
Mannie Hyman’s saloon is where Doc Holliday’s last gunfight takes place. Leadville puts Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in the shade, with its 120 saloons, 118 gambling halls, 110 beer gardens and 35 brothels. Check out the contraption on the boardwalk next to the clock. That’s an early electric meter; Leadville first got electricity in 1883!
– True West Archives –

After a shoe shine, Allen enters Hyman’s at about five p.m. with his hand suspiciously in his pocket. Doc quickly reaches down, grabs his pistol, leans over the cigar case and fires.

The first bullet hits the door casing above Allen, who turns to run, but trips and falls forward. Allen is flopping on the floor when a second shot hits him in the right arm, halfway between the shoulder and the elbow.

Bartender Henry Kellerman leaps over the bar and grabs Doc as he attempts to get off a third shot. Police Capt. Edward Bradbury comes running in, shouting, “Doc, I want your gun!”

Doc surrenders his pistol to the captain, who arrests him.

A reporter caught up with Doc in Leadville: “He is a thin, spare looking man; his iron gray hair is always well combed and oiled; his boots usually wear an immaculate polish; his beautiful scarf, with an elegant diamond pin in the center, looks well on his glossy shirt front.... He usually talks in a very low tone.... In his pocket he always carries a beautiful, silver-mounted revolver, 45 caliber, and while talking to a stranger, his right arm restlessly wanders in that vicinity.”
A reporter caught up with Doc in Leadville: “He is a thin, spare looking man; his iron gray hair is always well combed and oiled; his boots usually wear an immaculate polish; his beautiful scarf, with an elegant diamond pin in the center, looks well on his glossy shirt front…. He usually talks in a very low tone…. In his pocket he always carries a beautiful, silver-mounted revolver, 45 caliber, and while talking to a stranger, his right arm restlessly wanders in that vicinity.”

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

Arrested on a charge of “assault with the intent to kill,” Doc Holliday sat in the city jail until two friends signed his $5,000 bail bond. The police, meanwhile, made a “quiet raid upon everybody who carries concealed weapons,” reported the Daily Democrat on August 22.

At the preliminary hearing on August 25, Holliday testified he shot Billy Allen, adding, “I knew that I would be a child in his hands if he got hold of me; I weigh 122 pounds; I think Allen weighs 170 pounds.” The judge assigned the doc’s case to criminal court and raised his bail to $8,000, only to reduce it to $5,000, due to the doc’s poor health. Even so, Holliday had to wait in jail for over a week before his friends posted his bail. He was released the night of September 6.

The judge had scheduled the court date for December 23, but Holliday’s lawyers successfully got a continuance until spring. The trial began March 27, 1885, almost three years to the day that Holliday and Wyatt Earp had confronted Curly Bill Brocius at Mescal Springs. After a short deliberation, the jury acquitted Holliday on the grounds that Allen’s threats had justified the shooting.

Arriving in Colorado as a fugitive from Arizona in April 1882, Doc bounced around the state for five years, mostly by train, and hit many of the boomtowns, including Denver, Silverton, Pueblo, Trinidad, Cripple Creek, Leadville and, his final stop, Glenwood Springs.
Arriving in Colorado as a fugitive from Arizona in April 1882, Doc bounced around the state for five years, mostly by train, and hit many of the boomtowns, including Denver, Silverton, Pueblo, Trinidad, Cripple Creek, Leadville and, his final stop, Glenwood Springs.

Allen apparently never got his $5. He remained in Leadville for a time before moving to Garfield County, where he served as a scout during the Ute troubles in 1887. After stints in Chicago and Salt Lake City, Allen joined one of the Oklahoma land rushes, then settled in Cripple Creek, Colorado, where he became fire chief. In 1898, he went to Alaska, where he was appointed fire marshal and, later, deputy U.S. marshal in Nome. Coincidentally, he arrested Holliday’s pal, Wyatt Earp, who was in Nome running the Dexter Saloon. Allen died in Orting, Washington, in 1941.

Recommended: Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend by Gary L. Roberts, published by John Wiley & Sons.

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Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.